Russia aiming for '09 ProTour berth

Russia's desire to host a round of the ProTour public knowledge for some time, but the nation is moving closer to achieving that goal. Over coming weeks representatives from the UCI will travel to Russia to evaluate its suitability for a round of the sport's top series.

Russian Cycling Federation president Alexander Gusyatnikov has signalled that he wants the nation on the ProTour calendar as soon as next year. Gusyatnikov has big hopes for the sport in his homeland, signalling that he wants to build a Tour of Russia that would be as prestigious as the three Grand Tours – Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España.

"The financial and technical directors of the International Cycling Union will be visiting Russia in the next couple of weeks," Gusyatnikov told "Their goal is to evaluate the condition of our roads and accommodation for the cyclists. We are then planning to sign an agreement to host a race."

Russia's desire to host a ProTour round meshes well with the UCI's desire to globalise the sport of cycling. The international governing body took its first step earlier this year with the addition of Australia's Tour Down Under to the ProTour calendar, the first non-European nation to host a round of the world series.

"We don't have to have 100 races in order to become the Tour de France; we must have at least a few held at the highest level possible, everything is possible," added Gusyatnikov. "At this point it doesn't really have much to do with the athletes; Russia lacks good quality roads in order to have an attractive race."

Russia is one of handful of nations vying for a ProTour position. The UCI has floated the possibility of including ProTour rounds in the major markets of America and Asia as a part of its expansion plans. The Tour of California is an obvious candidate for any push into the massive American market, while the Tours of Qinghai Lake and Langkawi have been named as possible Asian rounds, although organisers from the latter have moved away from its ProTour ambitions in recent months.

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